Travelling to amber list countries – everything you need to know

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With the bad news for travel this week, the change in Portugal’s status, and no new countries being added to the green list, many people are considering continuing with their travel plans to amber countries that they expected to be green. So can you and should you travel to an amber country, If so, what do you need to think about before you go?


Can you travel to an amber list country?

The simple answer is yes. Despite confusing messages from the government that make it sound like any amber list country is riddled with mutant strains, there is nothing legally that stops you travelling. You don’t need to have a valid excuse and no one at the airport is going to question you about your reasons for travel like they did before 17 May. The government advice that you “should not” travel is just that, guidance. You have no obligation to follow it. For me, it’s a bit like an advisory speed limit on a bend. Legally they can’t enforce it, but it’s there to advise you of a risk but leaves you to the decision as to what to do. That’s versus a legal speed limit that you have to abide by or face a fine.

The problem with the amber list is that there are countries that are doing extremely well with Covid like Malta, much of the Caribbean, and a few other countries like the UAE that are generally pretty good. However, there are others where cases are high and it could end up on the red list. This is the issue with the amber list. The government does not trust us to be able to act like adults and use some common sense. However, to be fair there are a lot of people that embark on travel without proper insurance, or funds if things go wrong even during a pandemic. I believe it is perfectly possible to travel safely to amber list country, especially if you are fully vaccinated.

Before deciding to travel you need to look at the country in question and see:

  • How many cases are there?
  • How many people are vaccinated?
  • How is their healthcare?
  • Can you get insurance to travel there?
  • How will you test to get back into the UK?
  • If flights got cancelled, how easy would it be to get back?
  • What do you need to enter?

A good guide to the general state of a country is FCDO advice. Surprisingly there are a number of countries on the amber list that have no FCDO warning against travel due to Covid. This means that the Foreign Office does not view there is a substantial threat due to covid in that country. 

You can find all that information and most of the entry requirements via this page.

If you chose not to travel, most airlines won’t give you a cash refund if you chose not to travel and the flight still goes. Some will allow you to move your dates but you will need to pay a difference in fare if there is one. Or for some you can take a voucher to use at a future date. 



Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5, International Arrivals concourse

Insurance is one of the most key issues with insurers changing their mind over the last few weeks as to how they will cover amber list countries. Some won’t cover any amber countries, some will cover countries if there is no FCDO advice against it and some will cover any amber country. 

So if you have an existing insurance policy check if you are covered. You need to be very specific as to what you are asking – are you going to a country that’s amber AND against FCDO advice for example. Make sure you have the new Global Health card if you are traveling to a country where it would be accepted as it’s a replacement for the EHIC European health card. If your EHIC is still valid, you can use that.

If you need insurance, Staysure are a reliable company I have used that offer a cheap add-on policy for travel within Europe against FCDO advice (around £15 extra). It also covers a few North African countries as well.

If you need insurance for amber countries or against FCDO and government travel advisories, battleface* is one of the largest providers. They also offer Covid-19 cover for medical expenses cover for travellers up to a maximum age of 59. You can find more information and check prices here. 


Testing, testing


Testing to enter a country

You will probably have to have a test on the way out to most countries and not many accept rapid tests. I, therefore, recommend testing at the maximum time limit and spend time researching your company using Trustpilot. It’s well, well worth paying more to use a company that’s reliable with proper customer service that you can call. Otherwise, your whole holiday could go up in smoke if they are late with your results for the sake of a few extra pounds. I have used Express Test twice now and found their customer service answer quickly and be helpful. They cost around £80 and have sites around the UK. Note they are not UKAS fully accredited which a minority of countries require.


Testing to return to UK

Again this is another area to be prudent. There are some rapid tests you can take with you and perform the test whilst away. This is the easiest option and they are generally cheap. I previously used Qured for £33 and has no issues and the majority of other people had none. However, a few people have experienced issues with long waits for certificates and no replies to emails. I suggest that you have a backup plan if you use Qured such as looking at local options or if you travel a lot taking a bak up test from another country with you. 

For my next trip, I have purchased a similar product that has good reviews for customer service too. Medicspot costs slightly more at £45 but it’s still not bad for a reliable service, especially with the 10% discount below.

Register your kit then follow the instructions on how to perform your swab (must be within 3 days before returning to the UK). Get your results in 20 minutes. You’ll then take a photo of your results, send this to Medicspot, and you’ll receive a doctor-signed certificate same-day. I’ll let you know how I get on when I use it.

If you use this link you will get 10% off Medicspot. 


Day 2 and 8 tests

Now here is the area where I would scrimp on testing and just go for the cheapest and the easiest.  There is a good comparison site here that you can search for the cheapest Covid tests for travel. The cheapest I can see is £85 for both tests. I would make sure it’s definitely on the government list by checking here – as I wouldn’t trust a comparison site. But being able to sort the results makes it much quicker than starting off on the government website.

As long as you get an order reference number, then most people will not care if it takes a while to get the test results back. You can do a home test which you are allowed out to post or you are allowed to travel to a testing centre. You can even do a day 2 test on arrival at Heathrow as it’s a test that is on or before day 2 with the day you arrive being day 0. You must have a reference number for your test purchase by the time you fill in your Passenger Locator form to return to the UK as you have to provide your number.  You can read about my day 2 test experience here. 

If you are going to go with the cheapest, make sure that you do it in plenty of time in case you have any issues getting the reference number you need for the PLF form. 


Test to release

If you want to get released on day 5 (remembering that the arrival day is day 0) then you will need to pay for day 5 testing. You can read a review of test to release here. 

I personally think it’s worth spending some time to find somewhere that does test to release with same-day or next day results even if it costs slightly more. I don’t see the point in doing a test that’s going to take 48 hours to get the results as that’s then day 7 before you get out!

Dam Health offers a same-day service for £99 and has clinics around the UK. 

As soon as you get your negative result then you are free to leave quarantine.  However, you will still have to do your day 8 test which you have already booked.

There are lot of circumstances that are not explicitly laid out in the government guidance, particularly if you are leaving the country again before the day 2 or 8 tests. This is poor but there is an email address that I would suggest you contact so you have things in writing. Prior to the traffic light system it was more clearly laid out that you can leave quarantine to leave the country.

It does at least say in the law “

(7) P must, on their arrival in England, travel directly to the place at which they are to self-isolate, and must then self-isolate until whichever is the earlier of—

(a)the end of the 10th day after the day on which they arrived in England or, if later, the end of any period that applies by virtue of paragraph 2 or 3 of Schedule 8;

(b)their departure from England; or

If you have further questions:

“If you’re intending to travel to the UK in the next 7 days and facing a set of circumstances that are not covered by this guidance, email your enquiry to [email protected].

Do you have travel booked to an amber list country? Do you plan to travel anyway? Let us know in the comments below.


*battleface is provided by Tangiers Insurance Services Limited, a UK insurance intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, Tangiers Underwriting Services SRL, a Belgian mandated underwriter registered with the Authority of Financial Markets and Services and battleface Insurance Services LLC, a US licensed insurance producer. The details provided on this webpage are for information only. Always read the description of cover contained within your policy to ensure it is suitable for your needs.




38 Comments on "Travelling to amber list countries – everything you need to know"

  1. I might be misinterpreting it, but wording on the government website is day 8 test must be taken on OR AFTER day 8. There doesn’t seem to be upper limit.
    Does it mean that if I do TTR on day 5, I can do my day 8 test few weeks later as departure test for another trip?

    • It’s an interesting question. As far as I can see, where people have done the day 8 test late, it has not been followed up. However you do often get called by track and trace while isolating and I’m not sure how they would react. Given the wording I don’t see how legally it is an issue but of course it’s not in the spirit of the rule which is to detect variants coming back into the country. So morally questionable!

  2. Charlotte Cappin | 6 June 2021 at 6:45 am |

    Hello two questions firstly how would you find out which countries require fully UKAS accredited tests please? Also please can you tell me what situation would be (providing all are still Amber by August) if you went to Portugal came back to the U.K. two days later flew to Malta for a long weekend and two days after that went to Corfu? Please can you advise me what the testing regime might be and indeed whether this could be feasible? I understand that one can travel whilst self isolating – that said nobody has a clue about the situation in August and whether an ‘Isle of Mull’ variant is causing concerns then. Thank you

    • If you look at the country requirements in the FCDO countries page it gives the relevant info (link in article).

      The rules about this are not particularly spelt out. Technically if you left before day 2 you should not need to do a test but it’s not really spelt out specifically. Given that you need a PCR test for Malta, I’d do a day 2 test on arrival and then use that as the test for Malta as well providing you make sure they have the correct info on the certificate. Yes you are allowed to leave self isolation to leave the country.

  3. Thanks Michelle. I am still going to Malta a week on Thursday for two weeks. Do you know where it says if the outbound has to be UKAS accredited? I’m booked for the Express drive through at Southampton that you recommended. Malta are doing drive through tests at the airport for €35 so I’m tempted to book that as a back up for Qured just in case! Just need to sort out my day 2 and 8 now.

    • The FCDO site has the details for what countries need for testing and usually has a link through to the countries own requirements page.

      • Thank you – I have been through all the FCDO advice and the Maltese government website and it just says PCR within 72 hours, physical copy required. I’ll make sure I have everything printed out to take with me (as I usually do, just in case)!

        Really appreciating all this info…what would also be really interesting is tales of quarantine from people coming back from Amber. I am keen to know if they only call / visit within a certain timing window each day. I know the government have hired the Mitie company to run the checks and as I will be in London, I’m expecting a visit!

  4. Peter Harrison | 6 June 2021 at 8:06 am |

    A friend asked Staysure for insurance. They offered it at 335 pounds as he was not an existing client or 35 pounds as an add on to an existing policy.

    • Yes it’s designed as an add on. I think the price depends if it’s a single trip or yearly.

  5. M Santoro | 6 June 2021 at 8:25 am |

    Dear Michelle I am taking you up on the comment you have made about “ the government does not trust us to act like adults” and you are very right; I was in Lisbon on 19/06/21 and it is mandatory to wear masks even outside and the information was given before we landed; I have flown TAP from LHR T2 , and most of the Brits I saw in central Lisbon had no masks on whilst shopping or walking around.

    • Doesn’t surprise me. I’m in central London and the amount of people not wearing masks in the hotel is around 50% which I’ve been surprised by.

  6. We wish to return to the UK, from Portugal, for a wedding, and wish to spend minimum time in the UK.
    Can we book a day 2 and day 8 test then change the date of the day 8 test to be day 5, then consider that single test result as a test to release and also a fit to fly test? All RT-PCR tests are the same.

    • I don’t think a test company would allow this as most aren’t very flexible. If you are leaving before day 8, then I would look at just buying day 2 test and then booking a second test separately for the return journey. If you are spending 8 or more days then you would have to do test to release and day 8. But you should be able to use a day 8 test result for Portugal as long as it had the correct information on it that Portugal need.

      • The problem with that is that if you are flying in from an Amber country you must have booked 2 tests, Days 2 & 8. It is not permitted to book Day 2 only as they are for Green countries.

        • Which is interesting if you leave on day 3! You have to fill in a code for your test booking but if in transit you don’t need to, even if it’s overnight. The whole thing is a very grey area and just costing people money for nothing. I think the government need to be much clearer on what happens if you leave the country after day 2 as it’s currently not clear. I’m guessing maybe their argument is that you could be delayed and not leave.

      • Emma Drakeford | 6 June 2021 at 10:37 am |

        I have my nephews wedding in Majorca at the end of the month and am due to then fly to Santorini on day 6 of returning to the UK. This means I won’t be in UK for day 8 and reading these various chats, can you confirm that I can leave the country then as husband is insisting we will be breaking the law? Many thanks

        • The best thing to do is to do is to email [email protected]. to clarify exactly.

        • Hi Emma. I went through the current legislation and although the public advice seems to be missing it, it’s quite clear in law :

          (7) P must, on their arrival in England, travel directly to the place at which they are to self-isolate, and must then self-isolate until whichever is the earlier of—
          (a)the end of the 10th day after the day on which they arrived in England or, if later, the end of any period that applies by virtue of paragraph 2 or 3 of Schedule 8;

          (b)their departure from England; or

          • Emma Drakeford | 7 June 2021 at 11:41 am |

            Thanks very much Michelle, I have emailed the NHS address you posted and I will update my post with their response as clearly I am not the only person confused by this.

          • Emma Drakeford | 10 June 2021 at 11:45 am |

            I have now received my response from the email I sent and received this, which is great news and gives clarity to everyone asking similar questions to mine, Day 2 test needed only.

            Thank you for contacting the International Arrivals Team.

            You are able to purchase a single day 2 test as you will be leaving the UK before day 8, you also do not need to do test to release to be able to fly to Greece on day 6. Your quarantine ends when you are leaving the UK.

          • Hi Emma. Can I ask if this was the government email that you used as some answers are giving out cut and paste answers that differ. I’d like to investigate so if you are able it would be great if you are able to forward the email you got to [email protected]. This is the answer I would expect knowing someone who has just done exactly that. Thanks!

  7. “ you will still have to do your day 8 test which you have already booked.” – what if you’ve already left the UK again on another trip abroad by the time day 8 after arrival (in effect Day 9) comes around?

    • Well obviously you wouldn’t be able to do it. The rules on this are not really spelled out but you should be able to book the day 2 test only and then show your onward flight to Border officers.

  8. Expresstest drive through at Heathrow for “fit to fly” is now £59 and the BA discount code stacks on that. Used back holiday Monday at 10am and had the certificate 4 hours later

  9. Frances Morris | 6 June 2021 at 9:06 am |

    Hardly like a speed limit. Take Barbados. Only 20% vaccinated. You could be importing the virus into the country or even the new variants. It’s irresponsible to travel to these places just for your own pleasure. It’s not just your ow risk. It’s risking other people’s lives.

    • I think Barbados is a good example actually. The point that you are missing is that it is possible to travel safely without importing Covid into countries. I’m certainly not suggesting someone unvaccinated with no tests from a Covid hotspot travels. However, the U.K. government rules are not there to protect other countries. That is the job of the country that you are entering. The U.K. rules are based on a) politics and b) the risk of the country you are travelling to having variants that you bring back.

      They have pretty strict protocols in place in Barbados. Not only do you have to test before you go, you have to test and quarantine on arrival. They have tracking while in quarantine. Countries like Barbados rely on tourism and carefully manage their risks to allow tourists to visit. If you are fully vaccinated and tested twice, the chances of you taking the virus with you are very, very slim. Even slimmer that you would pass it on given that there is strong evidence that it reduces transmission. Barbados is a good example also as there is strong vaccine hesitancy. It’s unlikely they will achieve herd immunity through vaccines. So does that mean no one can ever visit again?

      Everything with Covid is about balancing risks. Risk of Covid versus economic deprivation etc. Even countries like Australia are beginning to look at allowing vaccinated travellers to return without quarantine.

  10. Paul Ettlinger | 6 June 2021 at 1:16 pm |

    Michelle thanks for your great blog it’s invaluable
    Question can you isolate / quarantine on return from an amber country in a self contained Airbnb type accommodation or does it actually have to be your home
    Best paul

    • No it doesn’t have to be your home. Can be a hotel, “holiday apartment” a friends home etc.

  11. Bob Kelly | 6 June 2021 at 3:27 pm |

    We are scheduled to travel to Florida on the 20th July. Article in today’s Telegraph suggests that you can only get into the US if you spend 14 days in a country other than the UK. What is your understanding about travel to the US?

    • That is correct. It’s currently closed to anyone who is not a US resident or holds one of the specialist visas if you have spent any time in the last 14 days in the UK or Europe. If you go somewhere like Mexico or the Caribbean for 14 days then it solves the problem.

  12. I might have missed something, or misunderstood, but how do you go about taking the day 2 test on arrival back at Heathrow if you need the reference number on the PLF? Is it bookable online?

  13. Michele, do you happen to have a list of accredited test providers for Scotland. I looked on government website and couldn’t find it. We are looking to fly to Poland for my brother’s wedding. We will fly via Heathrow to avoid hotel quarantine in Scotland and isolate at home instead.

  14. Ivan Clark | 7 June 2021 at 8:44 am |

    I want to see my fiancee as not Seen her in person for over a year now but she is in the USA do you know what I will need to travel and be able to get in to the USA been looking online but no straight answers hope you can help

    • Unless you are a US citizen/resident or hold certain types of visa you currently can’t enter the US if you have been in U.K. or Europe in the last 14 days. There could be some news regarding this in the next week or so as they are due to discuss at the G7. The only way round it currently is to go somewhere else like Mexico or the Caribbean for 14 days first and then you can enter with an esta as usual. You will need a PCR test also.

      It would be easier to just meet your fiancé somewhere like Mexico probably!

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